Tuesday, January 28, 2014

For Those About To Drink, I Salute You

 [EDIT] I do want to add that I don't want the title of this blog to be misleading.  It was simply a play on the AC/DC album title "For Those About To Rock, We Salute You".  While I do think it is healthy for someone in recovery to not harbor feelings of jealousy or resentment towards those that drink, I DO NOT encourage anyone with a problem to drink. And if you think you may have a problem, please get help or seek the advice of someone that's been there.  It could save your life.

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In the halls of Alcoholics Anonymous, you often hear recovering alcoholics say, "Hell, if I could still drink I'd be right there with em!" And of course, this is true.  Most recovering alcoholics LOVE to drink and if they had never decided to turn away from a life of consuming a liquid they had a very unhealthy reaction to, they would probably still drink you under the table.

And yes, for me personally, if I could drink without having that weird reaction of passing out in a public place with my pants down, I probably still would.  But it is key that I never feel any bit of jealousy towards those that can drink like normal people.  This is one of the most important steps of maintaining sobriety.  If you let jealousy fill your thoughts, you won't recover.  And if you are one of those that think you are recovering but still harbor jealous feelings, you're kidding yourself. You'll spend your remaining days in agony until you break down and have another drink,  because you are letting yourself feel that you are being deprived while everyone else is indulging.  Those thoughts will nag at you day in and day out, from the time you get up in the morning until you manage to fall asleep at night.  You have to understand that YOU have a problem, and THEY do not, and there isn't anything you can do to change this fact.  Nothing.  So it's futile to to harbor negative feelings of jealousy because of an irreversible condition you've developed.  Acceptance, or death.

We can't move forward until we begin accept the nature of our problem.  This is universally true of any personal problem.  And until you accept every inconvenient truth about your addiction, you won't even begin to truly recover.  Before I decided to get sober, this was my main problem when attempting to "fix" my alcoholism.  I knew that I had a big problem on my hands, but for so long I spent an ungodly amount of energy on finding a solution that would allow me to keep drinking like everyone else.  I just knew that if I drank less or switched drinks or whatever, I could make it work and continue to drink with everyone.  What I didn't understand, and failed to accept, is that my addiction was much stronger than me as long as I allowed myself to feed it.  I didn't realize that the solution was to starve it to death, not to try and beat it into submission.

When I finally did make the decision to never drink again, I wasn't sure that I could do it while working at a bar.  I thought I'd get those jealous feelings and want to be part of the fun crowd that I was helping make possible.  With everyone toasting and cheering all around me, nagging at every fiber of my being, I'd certainly want to raise a glass and toast as well.  Luckily, I was smarter from the get-go, and never allowed myself to feel jealousy when those moments arose.  I accepted that I have a problem and was better off at not indulging with the rest of them.

Early in my sobriety, one of my good friends and former co-workers told me that she lived next door to an older alcoholic woman that had once been a self-proclaimed "Mrs. A.A." She spent so much time in the halls of Alcoholics Anonymous that she even met her husband at an A.A. meeting.  But my friend told me that this lady constantly fell off the wagon in her older age. Upon learning that my friend was a bartender, the older woman said, "Oh, I see.  You're one of those people who can drink normally."  This statement reeked of jealousy.  I bet a million bucks that this lady, despite all her efforts in following a 12 step program, submerging herself in the fellowship of recovering alcoholics, and marrying a partner who shared a similar affliction, had failed simply because she had harbored resentment and jealousy towards those that can drink like normal people.

You can't be jealous.  Don't let yourself be.  Jealousy makes you feel like you're being deprived of something, and that feeling of deprivation is a nagging, nagging thing.  It will eat away at you until you finally give in and throw all your progress out the window.  Cut these feelings off at the source before they being to fester.  Think of all that you have to gain from your sobriety, and rejoice in the fact that you're taking back control of your life. 

[I must take this moment to point out that this "anti-letting-yourself-feel-deprived" mindset is the cornerstone of my method of quitting smoking as well]

If you've quit drinking, be proud of that fact.  And be equally proud and happy for those that still drink.  That doesn't mean that some of those people may not have problems of their own, it just means you're not letting yourself be jealous of someone that drinks.  I sure don't miss the hang-overs, poor judgment, next-day anxieties, etc, etc.  I'm not sitting in a bar full of loud and cheerful people secretly wishing I could drink with them.  I'd drink with them if I could, but I can't.  And that's that.  I'm not gonna let my personal problem bring anyone down.  They are all having a good time, and good for them!  So, I say, for those about to drink, I salute you.  And in fact, next time you all do a "Cheers!", pour me a shot of water or Coke or something.  Just because I don't drink, doesn't mean I can't celebrate and acknowledge the good times with you.



 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I Would Have To Be Drunk To Drink Again

I am often asked how, or why, I stay sober.

But before I go into the final reason, I feel it necessary to give you a little description of what it was like to be "Drunk Donny", my former alter ego.

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I can pinpoint the weekend that I became a full-blown alcoholic; someone who continued to drink despite all the bad things that happen as a result of their drinking. I had been out partying both Friday and Saturday night until all hours of the morning, and woke up with a slight hangover to attend the wedding reception of a friend on Sunday, March 20th, 2011.  At this point in my drinking career, I didn't really have bad hangovers anymore; my body had gotten used to the abuse.  What replaced the hangover, which I discovered the day following this wedding reception, was much worse.  But we'll get to that in a moment.

I went to this wedding reception stag, as I was a single guy and had been for a few years.  I didn't know too many people there, so I awkwardly floated between tables to talk to those I did know.  Soon, I became bored and decided to grab a drink.  They didn't have my usual drink of choice, Jagermeister, so I ordered a Bacardi and Coke from the bar, which I then had little experience with.  I drank it pretty fast, and realized that I liked it.  Rum was not a bad-tasting liquor.

I had no appetite due to all the liquor I had guzzled the previous two nights, but I tried to force down some of the food at the reception.  I ate probably a third of what was on my plate before tossing it in the trash.  I knew I should've eaten somewhere near fifty plates of food, but I just couldn't get anything down.  The thought of eating was making me ill.  So I returned to the open bar to fill up my drink.

I remember going outside the reception hall and calling my mother on the phone to chat, as I ususally did every Sunday.  The only thing I remember of the conversation was me reassuring her: "Don't worry, mom.  I won't drink too much."  The truth was that I had had too much already.

I returned to the bar and started ordering shots of whiskey, using my newly refilled Bacardi and Coke to chase the shot. I was doing these shots alone, without anyone else.  They weren't celebratory shots with the groom or anything; I simply was bored and figured getting drunk would remedy that problem.  I remember thinking, "Man.  I'm a pro!  I sure can handle a lot of liquor."

That was probably the peak of my tolerance with alcohol.  They say that an alcholic's tolerance, over time, is more like a parabola than an ever-rising slant.  I had reached the peak of that parabola and had no where else to go but down.

I left the wedding, still bored, and went out to another nightclub and probably had 4-5 more drinks.  I don't remember much about the rest of that night.  I didn't do anything too terrible, or make an ass out of myself or pass out in a public place, I just drank too much.  I woke up securely in my bed the following morning, but I had this weird feeling of nervousness that I couldn't seem to shake.

I was normally off on Mondays, but decided to go in to work to do some prep work, as I still worked in the kitchen at this point.  I tried eating while I was there, but still couldn't get any food down.  I remember I then started pacing back and forth in the kitchen, nervous.  My mind was spinning and I started having difficulty breathing.  I thought a cigarette would help calm me.  Nope!  Spinning a little more, I went inside and poured myself a shot of Jagermeister.  I took a sip and almost gagged.  It was immediately after this that I felt this "snap" in my head and decided to run for my car and drive myself to the hospital.  I was pretty sure I was about to have a heart attack and die. It was the scariest moment in my life. 

My first panic attack.  A major turning point in my drinking career.

Luckily, as I drove into the parking lot of the hospital, I had calmed down enough to turn back around and go to a friends' house to chill out for a bit.  I couldn't figure out exactly why I had a panic attack.  I thought I was just exhausted from a rough weekend of partying and that I didn't eat enough the few days before. 

From then on out, I started having panic attacks on a regular basis.  They would creep up on me out of nowhere.  At work.  Bam!  Panic.  At home, laying on the couch watching a movie.  Bam!  Panic.  In the shower in the morning.  Bam!  Panic.  It was starting to interfere with my normal functioning in life. I took a friend's advice and eventually went to the doctor and he prescribed me some anti-anxiety medication. 

I soon realized something: I only seemed to have these panic attacks after a night of heavy drinking.  A quick Google search informed me that people going through alcohol withdrawals were prone to panic attacks.  So was that it?  Was I having daily alcohol withdrawals?  I decided to test the theory and didn't drink for a few days, and the result was what I had expected: I felt fine if I didn't drink.  Did that mean I had to quit drinking?  Ha!  Hell no.  I could never quit drinking!  That was for old guys that found their marriages and jobs falling apart because of the booze, or for middle-aged ladies who had gone through five wine-fueled divorces and had blown through all their money gambling.  Quitting drinking was for the weak.  The people that couldn't handle their lives.  I was a single 27 year old guy that had his whole life ahead of him, filled with parties and sex and drinking and drugs and rock-and-roll.  I just had to cut back how much I drank.  I could totally do that and be fine.  Right?

After discussing my discovery with my doctor, I made a few naive and futile attempts at changing my drinking habits.  I stopped drinking Jagermeister. I remember announcing this to all my friends and coworkers as if that was the cure to all my problems and expected a pat on the back for it.  I was quick to show them that I was only drinking beer and only having 2-4 drinks a night.  Look guys!  I'm only drinking 4-6 Captain and Cokes a night.  No big deal! It was okay, guys!  I could handle 8 drinks right?  Even if they were shots of Jameson backed by a swig from a Newcastle.  I had this under control.  I was gonna sip that scotch and rocks and take that shot of cinnamon whiskey and chug that nut brown ale all at the same time and do it all over again in about ten minutes, with a Irish Car Bomb in between.  Totally fine.  Got it.  15 drinks a night was my limit. 

No one cared about these vain attempts.  They had watched me become a nervous wreck.  They were slowly subscribing to the idea that I should quit drinking completely, as I was quickly becoming a problem drinker right in front of their eyes.

I was nervous and panicky, and coming into work smelling sour, sweating profusely, and looking like shit.  I was dirty and un-bathed with shaky hands and dark rings under my eyes.  I would come into work in the morning after a night of heavy drinking and have them make me another drink, and I'd probably have three before going home to pass out to get rest before my shift started at 5 pm, which I became increasingly late for.  My coworkers would hear reports of me passing out at bars or getting kicked out of bars or pissing on myself while at bars or having to be wrestled into my own car so someone could drive me home from bars.  Every day, it seemed my car had a new dent in it from where I had backed into something because I was so fucked up and so determined to show them all I could drive home myself.   

It was pitiful.

But who were they to judge?  We all worked together at a bar and we all drank when we got off work until the early hours.  I was no different from them.  I would just have a little too much sometimes and pass out.  So what?  What was the big deal?

After each one of these episodes, with or without anti-anxiety medication, I would have a full blown panic attack or come close to having one, unless I had a few drinks to calm me down.  My solution at the time was that I would just stay drunk.  Having my brain swim around in an alcohol bath was the only thing that prevented these attacks. If I could just start drinking in the early hours of the day, and find ways to keep the booze flowing, I'd be fine.

My life for a little while went just like this:

I'd wake up, feel nervous and blank.  Curse myself for whatever it was I did the night before that I couldn't remember doing.  I'd see that my car wasn't in the driveway, meaning someone drove me home, meaning I had gotten way too fucked up.  I'd get flashes of things I said and did the night before and cringe with guilt. I'd lay in bed and smoke about 5 cigarettes and frantically text my friends to ask them what happened the night before. I'd then get dressed and walk down to all the local bars (I lived in the vicinity of about 6 or 7 different bars, including the one I worked at) until I found my car at one of them.  I'd drive home, feeling even more nervous.  I'd get home and pace around my house for an hour or two, chain-smoking, feeling terrible.  I would think about how I was lying to everyone I'd loved about my drinking habits, and became very secretive about my drinking.  The shakes would come on and I'd be on the verge of another horrible panic attack.  If I didn't have a bottle of liquor at the house I'd pop a Klonopin or two before work.  Sometimes I would drive to a bar before work and have a few shots to calm my nerves.  I'd show up to work half drunk, fearing the 8 hours without a drink.  So I started keeping a bottle of Fireball in my car and I'd go out to it throughout the night and sneak shots.  I'd get through my shift, anxious to do last call so I could sit openly at my bar and take more shots and then go to another bar afterwards and get even more fucked up.  It was around this time that I would be operating in full-black-out mode.  I'd be having what can barely be described as "a good time", ordering another drink, and then all the sudden BAM! I'd wake up in my bed.  The cycle would then continue, usually for days at a time.

I should be dead.

I found myself broke, about to lose my job, my friends, and everything I had worked for in my life.  I would wake up and consider suicide.  I didn't know how I was going to get out of this cycle.  I was not only a chain-smoking terrible alcoholic, but allowing an addiction to anti-anxiety meds to creep into the mix.  I couldn't stop drinking though!  How would I be a good bar manager if I didn't drink anymore?  How would I do a good job at making the bar I worked at a great place to be if I was sitting there sober all night.  Sober people were boring people with boring lives, after all.  There seemed to be no way out.

It's funny.  I had always imagined that if I ever had to quit drinking, I'd throw this great "farewell" party and everyone would attend and it would be one of the funnest nights we'd ever have. My friends would all wish me good luck at my new venture of choosing sobriety over a self-destructive lifestyle.  There'd be confetti and girls and party streamers and we'd all drink and be merry into the early hours of the morning, upon which I would just simply say goodbye to alcohol and go forward as a sober man.  It would be a momentous occasion; a time to remember.

The reality is, I took my last shot of alcohol in a bar I hated because no one there knew who I was and didn't mind serving me.  I had no friend at my side.  There were no party streamers and pretty girls launching confetti bombs into the air.  Shitty music was playing in the background.  It was a hot summer day, and I felt like shit.  I didn't even know if I still had a job.  I was given a final warning at work and had pissed off everyone there and had lost all respect as a manager because I had let my drinking affect every aspect of my life and showed no signs of slowing down.  I was a mother fucking wreck.  It had to end.

So I took control and it did indeed end. 

I took that last, pathetic shot of liquor and walked home.  I tore into my house and threw away every empty bottle of alcohol I could find (of course they were all empty.  I'd drank every last bit).  I looked up the locations of all the nearby Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and printed it up and put them on my fridge.  I had decided then and there that I would quit drinking forever.  This would not be an attempt to "fix" my problem so that I could one day look forward to some moment where I could drink again.  This decision would stick, or I would most certainly die.  There was no other alternative.  This was it.

The rest, is history.  And I have not had a single drink, or panic attack, since that day.

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So when someone asks how I stay sober or why I don't drink, I tell them my personal motto:

I would have to be drunk to drink again.

Think about it.  I would have to be completely out of my fucking mind to ever pick up another drink.  To do so would certainly catapult me back to the life I described above.  Who would ever wish that on themselves?  Who would wake up every day and continue to do that?  It was insanity.  I would never, ever want to return to that cycle.  I wasn't living.  I was dying!

The sober mind is usually a sharp mind with good judgement.  So as long as I don't drink again and taint that judgement, I won't drink again.  Sounds a little funny, but it's as simple as that.  And if I ever feel a temptation coming on, or consider for a second that, "Hey, maybe I'm cured now!  Maybe I can drink like a normal person," all it takes is for me to look back at those couple years that I was living in a viscous, virtual hell, and say, "Nope." 




Sunday, January 12, 2014

About This Blog, And About This Blogger

That's me!  Looking all serious.  With gigantic interlocked hands.

 Hello.

My name is Donny and I'm an alcoholic and former cigarette smoker.

As of this blog's creation, I have been sober for 18 months and have been nicotine free for 9 months.

I am also a bartender.

Yes, you heard right.  A bartender.  Well, more specifically, I am the general manager of a prominent bar/restaurant/music venue on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a place where smoking is still allowed inside and alcohol is king.  Although my place of employment is mainly a restaurant during the daytime hours, it becomes a smokey room filled with toasts, profanity, ramblings and rants at night.  It is within these night-time hours that my 40+ hours a week reside.

Upon hearing that I am sober, many people's first reaction is "But you work in a bar. How is that possible?"

It's simple.  I love my job and I love maintaining sobriety.

Because I am asked this question so often, I've come to the realization that many people fail to understand this key fact: Sobriety or any type of recovery from an addiction doesn't have to be hard.  

My ex-girlfriend used to say to me, "But you're different. It comes easy for you" as if I was somehow at an advantage to other alcoholics and addicts.  She never knew me at the height of my alcoholic woes (when I was passing out at bars on a regular basis with my pants down), so I'll give her a pass.  But this statement used to insult me, because it downplayed the severity of my addiction and cheapened my accomplishments, but mostly because it was partly false.  Yes, it does come easy for me, but not because I'm different.  I have no special advantage over any other alcoholic or addict.  I had a very self-destructive relationship with alcohol and hit bottom just like any other recovering alcoholic. In fact, I'd say that because I am still surrounded by a virtual sea of alcohol 5 nights a week, the odds would seem against me! 

I was born on February 13, 1984 and grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in a pseudo-Christian working class family.  There is a history of alcoholism on my mother's side, so for those that believe that alcoholism is genetic, there's that. I made straight A's in school, but not because that came easy either (as my twin-sister used to say).  I got good grades because I studied hard and applied myself.  My parents divorced when I was 9 years old.  I started drawing as a child, developing artistic skills rather early, and became a musician at 15. I fiercely attended a Baptist church (on my own will) during my teen years, up until I started smoking and drinking at 17 years old. I attended Mississippi State University for one semester as a computer science major before dropping out, effectively throwing away thousands of dollars worth of scholarships provided by the Air Force ROTC that I was reluctant to join.  I returned to the Gulf Coast and got a (pretty much useless) 2 year degree in art as a pot-smoking punk rocker.  I then worked a few different jobs before becoming a entry-level cook at the restaurant I currently work at.  It is at this restaurant that I learned to drink like a "pro." I was in two failed rock bands throughout my twenties that were both torn apart by alcoholism and drug use.  I somehow managed to work my way up to general manager at my place of employment within 2 years, making a wage that puts me slightly below lower middle class.  I'm a left-leaning liberal, and after many years of introspective debate, an atheist.

It wasn't a bad journey at all, but hardly one that put me at any advantage when it comes to maintaining sobriety.  As we all know, alcoholics and addicts come in many shapes and sizes.  History has shown that alcohol and drugs can sink their hooks into anyone, regardless of class, upbringing, or status.  Therefore, it is my belief that anyone can become an alcoholic or addict, and anyone can recover. 

This doesn't mean that I believe that everyone that drinks or does drugs will become an alcoholic or addict, nor do I believe that everyone that has a problem will recover.  Just that we all have a special set of circumstances unique to our own body chemistry and personalities, and when we fall, it is up to us (and us alone) whether or not we will stand again.

Although I will go into more detail about my road to sobriety in later posts, I do want to point out that I do not attend AA meetings, and what you read here may conflict with some of the views typically held by AA goers.  I have nothing against AA and did find it helpful during my early months of sobriety.  I'll even go as far as recommending AA to anyone looking for help.  I personally just found it impossible to progress in the program because of my atheist beliefs.  DISCLAIMER 1: If any of this offends you, or you feel a non-AA perspective may interfere with your own sobriety, I suggest you stop reading now.  If you have an open mind, and/or are secure enough in your own sobriety to listen to a different perspective, then by all means please continue reading.  

A key point of my personal beliefs directly contradicts the first step in the 12-step program, which is to admit that you are powerless over alcohol or your addiction.  I personally believe that we are not powerless over our addictions as long as we abstain.  It is also my belief that telling ourselves that we are in-fact powerless can directly lead to relapse.  But we will get more into detail about that later.

I've had the idea of starting this blog for some time now, as I often have many thoughts and discussions on the topic that I'd like to share in hopes that it may help others.  I feel that my unique perspective may be of benefit.  DISCLAIMER 2: I cannot say that any of my methods, thoughts, or experiences will help anyone at all, but that they do work for me.  In addition, I want everyone to know that I'm not infallible and could very well relapse someday.  I do, however, find that sharing these experiences is something that keeps me sober.  Although I do find sobriety easy, I certainly do not live a life without temptation.  As a matter of fact, I have experienced more temptation in the last two months than I have in the entire eighteen that I've been sober.  It is as a result of sharing and reflecting upon my experiences that these temptations are quelled.

So that pretty much sums it up.  In the following posts I'll explore different topics as I reflect upon them.  It will never be my aim to be preachy at all; I aim to be helpful by offering perspective.  DISCLAIMER 3: Although I'm an atheist, I will not debate the existence of any god or gods through my posts (so be warned, if anyone tries to post a debate on this topic, any such posts will be deleted)

Welcome to my blog.  I hope you might get something out of following along.